Tens of thousands of music lovers, dancers, hippies, hipsters, ravers and rockers have converged just outside my home town this weekend for Pemby-fest, a grand celebration on a breathtakingly beautiful meadow where the land is introduced to the sky by that great emcee: Mount Currie. They’ve come from all over Canada–indeed the world–for a crazy mix of musicians like The String Cheese Incident, The Decemberists, Broken Social Scene, The Black Keys, Dakota Pearl, Charles Bradley, Weezer, Shakey Graves, R. L. Grimes, Tiestro, Alice Cooper and many others.
But in the host town, whose population is slightly larger than my old high school, controversy has erupted over a Pemberton Chamber of Commerce campaign to promote local businesses. “Lucky Bastard” says the t-shirt that many employees at the grocery store, the hardware store and the gas station are wearing. Under a large cartoon-ish heart are the words: “Ya, I live here.” At the festival site, chamber volunteers are tattooing the image onto people’s arms (or cheeks, or chests) and taking the time to tell them about all that Pemberton has to offer. And there’s a big sign as you enter town that says “Welcome to Pemberton, you lucky bastards!”
The wording has some people’s panties in a knot
(Offensive? Oops. How about: some knickers in a tangle? Better? Maybe: some black latex crotchless gitch? No? Some ass-less chaps? Some bloomers? Some tighty whiteys? Ah, what fun we can have with words! And what ugliness we can inflict as well.)
Every day, individual inoffensive words are put together and used to invoke violence, promote hatred and spread lies. And this weekend, an offensive word is used to invoke smiles, promote tourism and spread joy. Whether you support it or not, you must admit that the irony is interesting.
Apparently, the Chamber’s campaign was inspired by a typical response when a visitor finds out someone is a local. “You live here? You’re a lucky bastard!” Surely, the creators knew it would be controversial. And they did it anyhow! (Similarly, the geniuses behind Fuck Cancer knew their idea would cause a stir. If they’d gone with Darn Cancer, I’m sure they would have been safe.)
It seems everyone in Pemberton has an opinion on whether Lucky Bastard is courageous and clever or crude and crass. It is fascinating that one word can stir up such an array of feelings and such heated discussion–ah, the power of language. It also raises questions in me: If I am offended by this word, am I a prude? If I’m not offended, am I a red-neck? (and then: is the term ‘red-neck’ itself offensive?) If I’m okay with “bastard,” yet complain about performer Kendrick Lamar’s language, am I a hypocrite? What would my grandmother think of the slogan? What about the local restaurant The Bitchin’ Food Co? Does it matter that this is a very short-term campaign, with a very specific target audience? Does this language portray the “real Pemberton?” or is it just tacky? With so many locals–old time farmers and newcomers alike–letting loose at the festival, what is the “real Pemberton” anyhow?
I know intuitively that in the context of this campaign, the phrase is meant to be cheeky. Edgy. Provocative. And although the word “bastard” does me slightly uncomfortable, it grabs my attention a lot quicker than “lucky duck.” (And it doesn’t provoke me nearly as much as “lucky fucker” would.) Sometimes you just have to wear the red lipstick. Put a little extra garlic in the guacamole. Add a dash of vodka to your prune juice. Like headliner G-Easy says in his song Make-Up Sex: “It’s so hard to be wholesome, yo.”
And if you asked one of those thousands of festival-goes who are loving life in the gorgeous field surrounded by music, mountains and friends if they feel like lucky bastards this weekend, I’m pretty sure you’ll get a resounding, “Hell, ya!”